[Research Voices: Theoretical Article]

The Timelessness of Arts-Based Research: Looking Back Upon A Heuristic Self-Study and the Arts-Based Reflexivity Data Analysis Method

By Amanda Rose Schenstead


This theoretical article explores the author’s experience of a heuristic, arts-based self-study with focus on the data analysis method that was utilized in this project and its continual development.  The author refers to this method as arts-based reflexivity.  A historical review of arts-based and heuristic research will be provided to give context and theoretical background to support the development and use of arts-based reflexivity.  This systematic method of analysing artistic data encourages the researcher to ask various questions to him/herself and interact with the data by creating intuitive art forms as responses to internal dialogue and feelings.  A template will be offered for researchers to explore and utilize for their own projects and processes.  The components of arts-based reflexivity will be explored using examples from the author’s graduate research project as well as recent reflections upon the topic: “What is My Artistic Centre?”, an adapted short form performance piece which illustrates the steps and potential self-knowledge which can be gained through the arts-based reflexivity method

Context and Introduction

In October of 2009, I graduated with a Master of Music Therapy degree during which I completed a major research paper on flute improvisation. This was a heuristic arts-based self-study through which I took an in-depth look at the intricacies of the personal improvisational process using my primary instrument: the flute. The original intent of this project was to explore and develop potential clinical resources for the flute in music therapy but it turned into something much bigger and self-reflexive. The whole process began with a feeling of distance from the flute and my attempts to become reconnected through using improvisation. Specifically, I improvised on stories and poetry that I had written and discovered that there was something very important happening…I was becoming reconnected with the flute as well as my “inner characters” or subjectivity.

After exploring flute improvisation in 25 practice sessions, I wrote about my experiences in a journal which became the main source of data. The journal was analysed using an arts-based method and the findings took on the form of a performance piece in which I perform the stages of my process using a synthesis of poetry, artwork, music, and personal reflections. The performance piece is an integral part of this project and was video recorded on a DVD which accompanied the written paper. I also explored various flute techniques as part of this process and began to speculate upon their usefulness in the therapeutic setting. A final meta-reflection of the entire project presents a philosophy explaining the dynamics of the intrapersonal relationship. The process I went through was intense and I discovered that the stages of my improvisational process appeared to reflect the stages within a “rite of passage” (Ruud, 1995) as well as the literature connecting to self-actualization (Maslow, 1968) and peak experiences (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). These discoveries made me reflect and realize the importance of the connection between a music therapist and his/her main instrument as a catalyst for enhancing an internal sense of “presence”. As stated in a scene from the performance piece: “I think that through this project I have learned to be fully present with myself…if I have this, the presence with the other augments” (Schenstead, 2009).

I recently had the opportunity to present on a panel for arts-based research with two other professionals in the fields of music therapy and research at the 37th Annual CAMT conference in Winnipeg, MB. In a combined effort, we drew from the literature and personal experiences with arts-based research to illuminate and reflect upon the following topics: a framework for valuing arts-based research, theoretical foundations, data analysis and interpretation methods, knowledge dissemination, and ethical issues. My focus was primarily upon data analysis and interpretation methods in which I expanded upon the method of data analysis that I used within my major research project: I refer to this method as “arts-based reflexivity”. This method consists of a systematic means of interacting with artistic creations which come out of data collection and creating more levels of reflection and artistic creations in response to the data. The levels of data analysis can also be performed (as in “acted upon theatrically”) which adds an even richer reflective layer to the entire experience.


The purpose of this paper is to provide theories describing how we can continue to interact with data in an artistic and authentic way. First, I will provide a theoretical background, beginning with a brief summary of my research project describing heuristic and arts-based research methods, how I used them, and how their synthesis helped me to define and develop “arts-based reflexivity”. I will also illustrate how the final result/meta-reflection of my major research project relates to the continued development of the arts-based reflexivity method. Secondly, I will provide a template describing the stages/processes involved in arts-based reflexivity for researchers to explore, modify, and utilize in their own projects and processes. Finally, I will reflect upon the implications of this method and future directions in which to take the representation and performance of data even further to achieve an even greater sense of authenticity and credibility (music therapy or otherwise). There are various extracts from my major research project throughout this paper but that project in its entirety will not be explored at this time. If you wish to read the entire research paper to provide a richer context to this article, it can be found on the CIMTR website in the research library.

We will now begin by delving into the world of heuristic research…

Theoretical Background

Overview of Heuristic Research:

I like to compare the heuristic process to putting a puzzle together in your mind. You do not know what the picture looks like…but you may have an idea. The word, “heuristic” stems from the Greek “heuriskein” which means “to study” or “to find”. It is also related to “eureka” which was first shouted out when Greek mathematician, Archimedes’ suddenly discovered the buoyancy principle while taking a bath. He ran naked through the streets yelling out “eureka”. Clark Moustakas (1990) pioneered and developed the heuristic research method with his study on loneliness following a personally in-depth experience with this feeling. Maslow’s research on self-actualization (1968) and Polanyi’s elucidations on the tacit dimension (describing both “subsidiary parts”-things we can see, and “focal parts” things that we cannot see but attempt to describe) also contribute to heuristic methodology (Moustakas, 1990, p. 9). For example, if one decided to study bike riding, s/he might begin by describing the subsidiary parts: the tires and the handle bars, and the motion of the wheels that propel the bicycle forward. However, it may be more difficult to describe the subjective experience of riding the bike: what does it feel like to ride a bicycle? What is that phenomenon and how can it be described? These would be the focal parts. Combining both subsidiary and focal aspects depicts the entirety of that which the researcher is attempting to describe.

Heuristic research involves immersing oneself in the “bathtub” of the phenomena which one is studying. It is an intense process of inner searching through which one discovers the nature or meaning of experience and develops methods for further analysis. It requires that the researcher be fully “present” throughout the process of studying the phenomenon and as he/she continues to be present, self-knowledge and awareness will occur. Whatever comes into consciousness presents a path for further elucidation (Moustakas, 1990, p. 9). In a sense, it could be argued that there is a “heuristic-ness” to every research project that is undertaken. However, this particular methodology emphasizes a disciplined and rigorous immersion into the phenomenon in both conscious and unconscious ways. The following section describes some of the processes and the phases of heuristic research.

Processes & Phases of Heuristic Research


  1. Intuition-I know there’s something there but I don’t know how I know, I just know. Knowing the importance of trusting the “little voice in your head”, it’s there for a reason.
  2. Focussing-clearing away all the junk to find the treasure. There will be a lot of information to interact with as the researcher immerses further into the phenomenon. It is his goal to find and feel what is important.
  3. Indwelling-staying in the water long enough to learn how to swim…be careful not to drown in a sea of knowledge. Staying immersed in so much knowledge will bring about new meaning.
  4. Internal frame of Reference-knowing that what may seem weird to you may seem common place for others or vice versa. It is important to keep your personal context in mind and know how this might influence how you experience the phenomenon. (Moustakas, 1990)

Phases of Heuristic Research

  1. Initial Engagement-the burning question and the inner search to discover it…a small eureka accompanies…
    “The question lingers within the researcher and awaits the disciplined commitment that will reveal its underlying meanings” (Moustakas, 1990, p. 26). Whatever the question may be, it will hold personal power, linking to the researcher’s life experiences. The search for the question involves intuition, self-dialogue, and the search for tacit knowledge. (Moustakas, 1990, p. 26)
  2. Immersion-you’ve dug your lovely pit, now sit in it and re-absorb everything you know and pull everything in with you.
    Moustakas (1990) describes the immersion process as "living the question" in waking, sleeping, and even dream states, connecting everything to the phenomenon while maintaining the focus (p. 28). This leads to a deeper knowledge of both the self and the phenomenon. Self-dialogue is one of the processes involved in this phase of heuristic research. This involves the back and forth shift from the parts to the whole which results in a complete appraisal of the experience. In his book on heuristic research, Moustakas (1990) includes examples of self-dialogues which are composed like scripts, depicting how the researcher asks/answers his/her own questions. This process can become highly reflective.
  3. Incubation: There will come a time when you get sick of it all and this is a good thing. The information is still growing in the unconscious mind.
    Incubation occurs when the researcher detaches him/herself from direct involvement and is not overtly concentrating on the topic/question. However, “on another level, expansion of knowledge is taking place” (Moustakas, 1990, p. 29), and all of a sudden, new answers will arise when the researcher is engaged in some other activity.
  4. Illumination: Eureka! Let’s run naked through the streets. Seeing the forest from the trees.
    Illumination is described as an awakening which “occurs naturally when the researcher is open to tacit knowledge and intuition.” When this “breakthrough in conscious awareness occurs, the researcher is awakened to a new dimension of knowledge or a modification of an old understanding” (Moustakas, 1990, p. 29).
  5. Explication: Okay, let’s put our clothes back on and find out exactly what this means.
    This phase involves explaining the meaning behind the awakening, sifting through the layers of the data, using more self-searching, focussing, and indwelling. Through explication, a comprehensive depiction of the core themes is created (Moustakas, 1990, p. 30-31). The researcher will return back to previous stages and perhaps find links and patterns that connect to the present illumination and thus provide a new sense of meaning and perspective.
  6. Creative Synthesis: what does this whole thing look like…putting the puzzle together.
    This stage involves putting all the themes together in such a way that depicts the entire experience. Once again, the researcher will be using tacit and intuitive powers as a means of forming this creative representation of the data which could involve the use of poetry, story, theatre, music, drawing etc. The researcher cannot force the creative synthesis. Meditation, intuition, and self-search will bring it about (Moustakas, 1990, p. 31).

Arts-Based Research

In an arts-based study, the researcher uses the arts as a means of analyzing and presenting the data (Austin & Forinash, 2005, p. 462). In a general sense, art could be found within the data and art is used to analyze the data. It seems as though arts-based research and heuristic research are linked: as stated above in the section on heuristic research, the final presentation or re-presentation of the data can also be referred to as “creative synthesis” which often includes artwork (Moustakas, 1990, pp. 31-32).

Arts-based research originated during the 1960’s-70’s, in a time when researchers were actively rethinking the science behind social science research methodologies. Around that same time, culturally and historically, artists were also looking towards social critique through public performance. Then, arts-based research emerged as a social construction crossing the borders between science and the arts in an effort to revolutionize all the classist, racist ways of discoursing about human experience… “To claim art and aesthetic ways of knowing as research is an act of rebellion against the monolithic ‘truth’ that science is supposed to entail” (Finley, 2008, p. 73). Arts based research embraces the non-positivistic paradigm but also embraces a higher purpose of facilitating change and heightening awareness among audience members about the message the researcher is trying to convey.

…to reach an even higher aim of transformative praxis, arts-based researchers need to revisit the importance of the power of form, not only to inform, but also to promote dialogic activist responses among audience participants (Finley, 2008, p. 79).

“Arts-based research has not been widely used in music therapy” (Austin & Forinash, 2005, p. 460). However, there are some studies which illustrate how the arts may be used as a means of studying and depicting the complexities of music and human experience (Jenoure, 2002; Arnason & Seabrook 2010; Schenstead, 2009). One specific example is Austin’s arts-based inquiry of Alcoholics Anonymous which includes a variety of artistic mediums which were formed into a musical play to depict participant’s experiences (Austin & Forinash, 2005, p. 463). Another example is Arnason’s (1998) dissertation on music therapists’ experiences in group improvisation which illustrates the use of narrative forms to help focus the raw data. She states, “utilizing a variety of creative textual forms in order to capture and convey the spontaneous and ambiguous nature of improvisation and people’s experience in music, was an indispensable and creative research tool” (Arnason, 1998, p.44-45).

Data Analysis Method: Arts-Based Reflexivity

The amalgamation of the processes/phases of heuristic research and the theories of arts-based research seemed to naturally form the arts-based reflexivity data analysis process which I will now demonstrate by using an example from my major research project on flute improvisation. Arts-based reflexivity involves drawing out main themes from the raw data (which is ultimately made up of various art forms depicting my experience of flute improvisation), creating levels of artwork in response, and synthesizing everything together (much like the explication part of heuristic research during which the researcher goes back and makes meaning from the illumination and ideas that occurred during the data collection process). The following is an example from my research project which shows how arts-based reflexivity looks in terms of analysing a journal entry:

As stated in the introduction, I wrote in a journal after each one of my 25 flute improvisation practice sessions. The purpose of the journal was to depict the essence of my experience through intuitive responses: these included personal reflections and art forms (poetry, music, drawing, stories, scene writing). When I went back to analyze the journal entries, I highlighted the important parts or “meaningful chunks” coming out of the raw data. These could include phrases, parts of poems etc. In the example above, the green highlighting depicts the personal/improvisational phenomenon-related “meaningful chunks” and the purple highlighting depicts the specifically flute related “meaningful chunks”. I also included analytic memos/reflections which are in bold text coming right after the highlighted portions.

Reflection: After highlighting, came a reflection or review of the “meaningful chunks”: Why are they meaningful? What does this mean to me now? Basically, I would talk to myself, taking everything into consideration, looking at where I am now and how my present state interacts with anything I felt in the past. This kept the reflections authentic as I wrote a narrative personal response. This also relates to the heuristic process of knowing my frame of reference and explicating the knowledge.

Key Words: Then, from that personal reflection, I drew out keywords or phrases which became the catalysts for an artistic creation. In this particular entry, the keywords were: warmth, beauty, holding.

Intuitive Artistic Response & Reflection

alt text
This picture is so beautiful and I think will be a major part of the results: holding the musical self in my own arms. I’m almost crying thinking about it…this is a metaphor for so much: the importance of nurturing the musical self and the beauty & strength that results. I can’t stop looking at it…this is the most lovely picture I have ever drawn…it’s necessary.

During the intuitive processing of this phase, I began to create a variety of art forms with which I was familiar (poetry and stories) as well as art forms I do not normally use (drawing, dancing, short scene writing). Being able to experience my journey in many art forms helped me to develop a more complete picture of the phenomenon I was trying to describe. McNiff (2008) states, “different sensory expressions can help us to further relationships with our own art.” (p. 31). This also results in reflexivity which “arises when different elements or levels are played off against each other” (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2000, p. 249).

The above example depicts one journal entry out of twenty five. When I was finished the analysis of every entry, I engaged within the following steps:

  1. Journal Review-Twice, I reviewed the journal in its entirety to ensure that I was drawing out the material that was most representative of my experience. In heuristic terms, this would be termed “focussing” (sifting through all the junk to find the treasures). The second review took place one month after the first to allow freshness in re-experiencing the data. I created theme diagrams and analytic memos at this point in an effort to extract the core themes. Moustakas (1990) states that this constant checking back “facilitates the process of achieving a valid depiction of the experience being investigated” (p. 33).
  2. Creation of the Performance Piece-I then synthesized all the artwork representative of the main themes and transformed it into various scenes which I would then perform as a means of representing the data. Ultimately, each scene consists of flute improvisation, monologues, drawings, poetry and theatrics. The performance piece can ultimately be viewed as a type of performance autobiography as I’m bringing my story into the public and acting upon it authentically. Pelias (2008) states that the primary aim of an autobiographical performance is to “create a particular speaker that tells of life lived”. As the speaker shares his/her intimacies and indignities, s/he is establishing a persona with which the audience members may or may not identify. In establishing this persona, the performer participates in a constant evaluation and selection process of what to share and what not to share with the audience. Often there is strength in “telling the untold” (p. 190). I find that this concept of ‘telling the untold’ to be important within the self-reflexive process that happens within the performance piece…truthful characters come out that are most representative of myself.
  3. Reflections Upon the Synthesized Data-After creating the performance piece I continued to improvise theatrically upon the scenes that were already created. This allowed for ongoing authenticity.
  4. Meta-Reflection Through Performance-I performed this work in data analysis workshops and as I had continued insight, I created extended theatrical monologues.
  5. Combining Scenes With Literature-I then linked my process and the concepts presented in the performance piece to literature on rite of passage, death/rebirth process, self-actualization, and peak experiences.
  6. Analysis of Extended Improvisations-As I continued to improvise, I started working specifically with the musical cells/ideas that were part of the performance piece, improvising on them fully, listening back, and analysing their meaning.
  7. Performing in Multiple Settings-I gained more knowledge by performing this in multiple settings.

Recapitulation of the Phases of Arts-based Reflexivity

On a large scale, in relation to the research project in which I was engaged, the following is a summary of the phases of arts-based reflexivity:

  • Step 1-summarize core themes or “meaningful chunks” from the raw data (which was the journal in this case) into a keyword form or narratives (reflections).
  • Step 2-Create an intuitive artistic response to this material-a drawing, poetry etc.
  • Step 3-Review all artistic responses and organize into a larger scale artistic creation (creative synthesis)
  • Step 4-Reflection upon the creation-add a new art form-musical improvisations, monologues etc.
  • Step 5-Meta-reflection through continued re-experiencing. Ex) continued performances in multiple settings-improvised differently every time

The beauty of the performance piece is that in retelling my story, the monologues, music, and reflections, became guides from which I could theatrically improvise. As I perform, I might gain insight in the moment and then choose to act upon this spontaneously as part of the performance. This is where meta-reflection upon the entire project takes place. Therefore, the performance piece is different every time I present it because being in front of a different audience will bring out different insights/moods. Langellier & Peterson (2008) touch on this concept in the literature surrounding performative inquiry: “The body that touches itself touching makes possible the representation of past experience by occasioning it for a particular audience in a present situation” (p. 157).

The theatrical improvisation therefore allows a morphological process to take place as I add my present stance to my past experiences. The process can be likened to adding fine detail to a piece of artwork. It is this detail that completes the entire structure. In terms of heuristic research, this coincides with the concept of tacit knowing (Polanyi, as cited in Moustakas, p. 21). The monologues describe a connection to the past which could be likened to the subsidiary parts (what I have already seen), whereas the performance of the monologues places me directly in touch with the focal (the unseen which I have yet to encounter in the moment). Combining the two allows me to generate a wholeness of the phenomenon for the present moment. This also allows for on-going meta-reflection and ontological authenticity (enlarged personal constructs) (Schenstead, 2009).

Final Meta-Reflective Result and How It Relates to Arts-Based Reflexivity

In an attempt to complete this project I came to a point where I was very stuck. The performance piece was complete and I kept on gaining knowledge through performing it but I still had no idea how it linked to the use of the flute as a therapeutic instrument. In an effort to discover what was missing, I tried to “push the process”, working many hours which resulted in “over-immersion” and stasis. It turned out that I needed to “incubate” (the heuristic process of disconnecting oneself from the phenomenon one is studying so that unconscious processes can bring about an illumination). This incubation happened through immersing myself in the world of heavy metal music. Listening to the music of System of a Down[1] initiated the process of discovering the final philosophical illumination for this project. As I listened to their music, I wondered why I liked it so much. This question was answered easily: it’s heavy, melodic, and it has a message. All of a sudden, all the light bulbs went on in my head. That was it…the illumination moment. This idea became an equation: melody + heaviness=message. I used these three words to describe how the flute could be useful within the therapeutic setting: it provides melody (pure tone and holding/containing) and it is heavy (it can sound distorted through use of extended techniques), and it speaks a message of therapeutic intent through its “melody” and “heaviness”. These three words also described the meaning of the intrapersonal relationship: we are “heavy” (in the sense that we carry around a lot of subjective baggage from our life experiences) and we are “melodic” (in the sense that we all possess a unique quality which makes us who we are). This sense of “melody” could be likened to Nordoff & Robbins (2007) concept of the music child-a sense of unique musicality inborn in every human (p.13). We also have a message which is our identity-a combination of our melody and heaviness.[2]

Now, I will link these three words to arts-based reflexivity. In the arts-based reflexivity data analysis method, the researcher asks him/herself questions which encourage him to depict the melody, the heaviness and the message that lives within his/her data and him/herself, thus depicting the completeness of his/her experience of the phenomenon. The following section explains how this may be accomplished.

Steps of Arts-Based Reflexivity: A Systematic Approach

As an example of data analysis and representation at the CAMT Conference, I performed a small scale performance piece which was titled: “A Journey to my Artistic Centre”. This performance depicted the stages that one might go through when engaged in a reflexive process of data analysis (arts-based reflexivity). The following is an adapted form of my original data analysis process which I undertook within my major research project. It poses questions the researcher might ask him/herself when engaging with the data. With the theme: “A Journey to My Artistic Centre” in mind I have presented by own responses to these questions (in italics) to illustrate the process.

  1. Initial Reasoning with your “burning questions”-what do I know for sure? What are the facts? Why is this important? What am I telling myself?
    I’ve got it all figured out…who am I as an artist? I know exactly who I am as an artist. I reasoned it out first. Of course I reasoned it out. That’s how we do things in the quantitative world…we have to reason things out…get the facts out on a dinner platter so that everybody can devour them in that comfortable feeling of knowing that they are indeed true…what is a fact anyway…something that is true and can be proven. So perhaps in a post-modern world…truth lies within the subjective experience of those perceiving the fact…it is a fact if you believe it…(In performing this, an “arrogant” character seemed to surface…strange as I feel as though I don’t have an arrogant bone in my body)
  2. Continued Introspection: Where are the holes in my reasoning? What am I not telling myself? Am I trying to cover something up and why? If there are holes in the reasoning, how can I elaborate on what I already know? Is there more to tell?
    So, what do I know that’s true…how am I an artist? What are the hard facts. I’m a musician, an actor, a writer, and a music therapist. Those are the facts. How do the purely artistic things contribute to who I am as a music therapist? Easy, as a writer, I gain insight, I analyse my countertransference. I can gain meaning through everything I write even if I don’t intend to, I still gain meaning and insight into inner issues. As an actor, I have a natural tendency to empathize with character…this is a must if you want to portray them properly…you have to fully empathize…this contributes to my abilities as a music therapist. And lastly…who am I as a musician…huh…*the hole in the reasoning* who am I as a musician…that’s a good question…? Right now, I don’t create music for myself very much…I appreciate and listen to music but I really don’t create music for myself anymore…so what’s going on now? I think that who I am as a music therapist is who I am as a musician…I became disillusioned…
  3. Artistic Response to Introspection: How can I depict what I know and what I am hiding at the same time? Art could include: music, poetry, theatre, drawing, dance etc.
    Poetic Monologue: Am I an artist…sometimes I don’t feel like one. I feel like a “music therapist” but where’s the music part of it? Am I supposed to be an artist too? A lot of the time, I feel more like the therapist which is good but I don’t know where the music has gone. It’s been institutionalized…it feels like there is nothing wrong with it but there is. Wrongly institutionalized music is really not music at all. It goes through routine and is tedious…has it lost all meaning? Good thing the therapist is there…maybe the therapist can help…then maybe music can get out of the institution and become it’s true self again…maybe music is the therapist and that’s that…
  4. Reflection Upon the Artistic Response: Look at the previous artistic response later and ask the following: where am I at with this now? How do I feel right now in this moment when I reflect on the words/parts that stand out from my previous artistic response?
    on the words: institute…intuition…music in an institute…Hmm…that was me then…this is a few months later…I really don’t feel this disillusionment anymore and I’m very happy about it. I’ve come to terms with the fact that at this moment in time, my artistic center lies within who I am as a music therapist. When the time is right, I will consider music for myself and continually enrich it because I know that will also enrich who I am as a music therapist. It’s an unknown but a balanced and exciting unknown…I wonder where it will take me. (this reflection happened about one month later)
  5. alt text
    Drawing: words: disillusionment, artistic centre
    Artistic Response #2-Take a key word/part/phrase and create a new artistic response based upon this and then speak to it.
    Speaking to it: I am distorted but at least I’m whole…why do I look like this…why am I so bent out of shape…it’s true, I’ve been through so much distortion and I didn’t even realize it. It feels like I’ve got nothing left…and why am I reaching into something that looks like it will hurt me…I am not my face, I am not my body, I am whatever is in that cauldron…I am distorted but at least I’m whole…it looks like I have a scar on my chest? Is it a scar…It also looks like a branch…
  6. Reflection Upon Artistic Response #2-Respond…grab another word or part of a picture if your previous response was a drawing and focus and reflect upon this
    Focus on the “Scar”/“Branch”: “My eyes/vision is found within whatever I reach for…that’s what makes the branch grow…my artistic centre lies outside of me…it’s a scar but it’s also something that allows for growth…that which hurts and heals at the same time…”
  7. Artistic Response #3-If it feels like it might end here, create a final artistic response. (In this particular example, I had an illumination in the previous step and it did end here.)
    Poetry: My artistic centre lies outside of me,
    Within that which could burn and hurt me and make me uncomfortable
    The fires that consume the witch…that witch that isn’t a witch at all
    The magic that never dies
    Crackling away with old teeth and glowing eyes
    that know the ghoulish encounters that are inevitable
    Pain which comes in waves and doesn’t know it wears a strong disinfectant
    Perfumed in toxins and showering down
    the oily skin of features, worn out and tired
    Leaving purged away comatose blue and nothing but a branch,
    Destined to hollow out if it doesn’t risk burning its branches to reveal the truth
    My artistic centre burns inside and outside of me…I’m glad
  8. New Self Knowledge-Evaluate what you have learned from this process. What can I take from this? How can I now apply this new found knowledge to my own life: conscious and unconscious. What is the new message?
    Keep taking risks, moving out of my comfort zone…the truth lies in that which makes you uncomfortable…I need to just put myself out there in any way I can. “Letting go of everything you think you already know” (Schenstead, 2009)-connection to an old reflection.

This arts-based process of data analysis is very much linked to heuristic research as the researcher continues to immerse him/herself within the topic or phenomenon until the illumination occurs. When referring to the steps above, potentially, it may be sufficient to stop the process at Step 4 if this is where the illumination occurs and this depicts the entirety of the experience. This process is entirely dependent upon the researcher experiencing it and the intuitive knowledge of when the process is complete and needs to stop.

When these steps are completed, the researcher then has two options: to explicate and focus (go back and find the really important parts of what just occurred) or go back and relive the stages. In the examples above, I might decide to use the drawing alone and some reflections/poetry about the drawing as a core focus. However, I found that performing the stages and reliving the process of transformation is also a powerful way of continuing the reflective process and interacting/improvising theatrically for an audience. Therefore, the performed stages become my focus.

Where Am I At With This Now?

The process of reviewing arts-based reflexivity and coming to a point in which I could clearly depict the steps and show how others may use them was an illumination point for me. Looking back upon my initial major research project and then engaging in performing the stages of the data analysis process revealed to me the timeless nature of arts-based research. Two years later, I am still engaging with the material in a performative and academic way and it continues to impart knowledge. It is interesting to note how the steps through a reflexive data analysis continue to reflect one of the core concepts from my research: rite of passage. When describing the flow of improvisation, Ruud (1995) speaks of it as a type of transitional ritual: “Improvisation not only means to get from one place to another but from one state to another…improvisation means to change a relationship to other human beings, phenomena, situation-and maybe the very relation to oneself” (p. 93). When engaging in an artistic research process, improvisation and flow takes place, especially if the stages are performed/improvised. A rite of passage seems to occur which is both important for the researcher and the project. Discovering and becoming consciously aware of the rite of passage/transformation that may be occurring on an unconscious level appears to be paramount in bringing the knowledge to fruition in the conscious world.

Implications of Arts-Based Reflexivity for Research Involving Participants

By no means do I consider myself an expert in the field of arts-based research as I have only engaged within it in a first person/self-study context. Therefore, the implications for expanding this data analysis method into the realms of research that involve participants is exciting to think about. In the qualitative research setting, arts-based reflexivity may be considered for use as a tool for evaluating credibility and authenticity for the researcher. For example, it could be used for checking if the researcher’s interaction with the data has been “truthful” as the 2nd step calls for a check for “what could be hidden”. This could be adapted to state: “what could be missing?”; “Are there perspectives I haven’t taken into consideration?”; “Is this fully and truly a depiction of my participant’s experience(s)?” Artistic depictions and personal reflections upon the previous stated questions could potentially provide the researcher with newfound knowledge about his/her data collection process and interpretations.

Final Reflection

As mentioned, the final outcome of my major research project was an equation depicting the dynamics of the intrapersonal relationship: our “melody” (our soul and natural peace of the soul) + “heaviness” (subjectivity/that which disturbs the natural peace of the soul)=the message/how we know ourselves. How have I come to know myself? Through art and the absence of art…through depth and the absence of depth…through being turned upside down and inside out and back again….through artistic transitions which have reflected my human transitions. I will leave you with some poetry:

The artistic bonds have no mechanism of tightening…
Only for expansion.
And they never break.
They will always hold you,
Secure as a mother’s arms,
Just tight enough and non-constricting
To allow you to expand as far as you need to go,
And find that which you search for…
Or let you continue to search some more,
It is the adornment and expression and elaboration of the soul..
A meaningful gesture in the shrine dedicated to it’s uniqueness.
Art is the conviction of the centre, the heart,
The flags of the unknown,
The mysteries made known but never solved overtly,
Only felt more distinctly
(Schenstead, 2011)


[1] An Armenian-American heavy metal band (www.systemofadown.com)

[2]More information on flute techniques and the intrapersonal relationship can be found on the CIMTR website in the research library.


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